For a second straight season, the Giants appeared on the cusp of an unexpected playoff berth but ultimately landed on the outside looking in. It’s been disappointing for a fan base that has become accustomed to postseason ball over the past decade, but president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi has already said that his aim is to put a playoff team on the field next year. Zaidi appeared on KNBR’s Mark Willard Show this week to discuss the offseason ahead and what moves the Giants could take to get back to the playoffs (audio link with the entire 15-minute interview available).
Pitching will be the focus, it seems, with Zaidi acknowledging that retaining both Kevin Gausman and Drew Smyly, in particular, will be a “priority” this offseason. Both showed well after signing one-year, make-good deals in San Francisco, though Smyly’s season was interrupted by a hand injury that sidelined him for more than a month and limited him to just 26 1/3 frames. Zaidi acknowledged that the organization has been unable to help wondering what might’ve been with a healthy Smyly, who pitched to a 3.42 ERA with a gaudy 42-to-9 K/BB ratio as a Giant.
Gausman’s excellent rebound campaign and the strong underlying metrics that support his success could make him one of the most sought-after arms behind top free agent Trevor Bauer and should at least push the Giants to think about making a qualifying offer. Smyly’s continued durability woes likely make him a more affordable reunion candidate, but the Giants will be seeking multiple arms this winter based on Zaidi’s comments. The San Francisco president of baseball ops suggested that stockpiling sufficient depth to get through 162 games, as opposed to this year’s 60-game slate, will be crucial.
The Giants have little in terms of rotation certainty, with Johnny Cueto, Logan Webb and Tyler Anderson the likeliest starters in 2021 at the moment. Beyond adding a reliable starter or two, Zaidi spoke of “backfilling” the starting staff. It seems fair to expect the Giants to bring in a handful of bounceback candiates on minor league deals — similar to their arrangement with Trevor Cahill this past season.
As for the bullpen, Zaidi made clear that he’ll pursue at least one experienced option to not only improve the quality of results but also to serve as a mentor for younger arms who are still figuring things out at the MLB level:
We are going to try to get some experience in that group. It certainly helps. One of the things we heard from our young relievers was how valuable it was to have a guy like Tony Watson down there, who’s seen a lot of battles from the bullpen and served as an example for them on how to get ready — how to think about the hitters you’re going to come into the game and face. There’s a lot of value in having good veterans in the bullpen, and that’s something we’ll look to do.
A reunion with Watson certainly seems plausible based on that comment, although if the club has true postseason aspirations, perhaps a more traditional closer would be a sensible addition. Ninth-inning duties were somewhat of a carousel at Oracle Park in 2020, with five different players recording saves — none more than Trevor Gott’s four. Liam Hendriks, Trevor Rosenthal, Trevor May and rebound candidate Kirby Yates are among the most notable names on the bullpen market this winter. Even if the Giants don’t expect to utilize a defined closer, bringing in some established help appears likely.
While it seems like the Giants will be spending to bolster the pitching staff, Zaidi cautioned against any visions of a top-tier position player joining the fray. For one thing, National League clubs are still uncertain whether they’ll have a designated hitter in 2021. Even with a DH spot at his disposal, though, Zaidi suggested that the organization is confident in the in-house group:
With the way our offense performed this year, I think we can be really selective and targeted and maybe look for more complementary players than anybody who is going to come in and play everyday, because we’ve got a lot of good options there.
In fact, Zaidi wondered whether, absent a National League DH in 2021, the club would even have enough at-bats to go around for the incumbent group. That might’ve seemed far-fetched coming into the year, but Mike Yastrzemski continued his 2019 breakout while veterans like Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford enjoyed bounceback seasons. The Giants’ overall .263/.335/.451 was good for a 114 wRC+ that was tied for sixth in MLB, and their 299 runs were the eighth-most in the Majors. That was done without much production behind the plate, but the Giants will welcome Buster Posey back into the lineup next season as well, which should help the cause even if his MVP-caliber days are behind him.
There are, of course, incalculable routes the Giants could take to address those offseason needs, but Zaidi did indicate that he expects the free-agent market to be more active than the trade front — at least for the Giants. It was difficult to line up on swaps given the sport’s economic uncertainty this summer, Zaidi noted, and he also pointed to what is expected to be a deep supply of free agents from which to draw with many teams expected to be aggressive in their non-tenders.